Essex Police top chief admits bobbies on the beat are under threat amid changing crime patterns

Stephen Kavanagh.

Stephen Kavanagh. - Credit: Archant

Essex Police’s most senior police officer last night admitted the number of bobbies on the beat is falling as the pattern of crime continues to change, including a rise in child sexual exploitation and cybercrime.

Chief constable Stephen Kavanagh said the force must ensure that officers are in the right place to fight crime and not “patrolling on the off-chance crime might happen”.

It follows concerns nationally that amid government funding cuts, an increase in demand for police services and police officer numbers falling, bobbies on the beat could be a thing of the past.

In May, Tom Winsor, the Inspector of Constabulary, voiced “growing concerns” that officers were being tied to their desks by paperwork.

Forces nationwide are also thought to be alarmed at the prospect of cuts of up to 40% in the autumn spending review.

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The latest Government figures show that the number of full-time equivalent police officers in Essex fell from 3,196 in March 2014 to 3,096 in March 2015 – a drop of 3%.

Mr Kavanagh said: “There are four times as many domestic abuse 999 incidents than burglaries every day in Essex and child sexual exploitation and cybercrime have increased in the county.

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“Having fewer officers means we need to put them in the right place to fight crime. Increasingly – because of domestic violence, child sexual exploitation, online fraud and other cybercrime – the right place isn’t out patrolling on the off-chance crime might happen.

“It is not possible to deliver the financial savings demanded of us without that having an impact on the services we provide. Policing in Essex costs 43 pence per day per person in the county.

“That makes us one of the cheapest forces in the country but means that finding further savings is extremely difficult. That will mean fewer officers but it also means we need to focus on the incidents that cause harm in our county.”

When asked if Essex Police faces having to ignore minor complaints, he said: “Our call handlers are trained to assess calls to us on the basis of threat, risk and harm and prioritise a response accordingly.

“The public would expect our response on serious crimes to be different to that of inconveniences and keeping the public safe is why we apply that prioritisation.

“There are many issues about which people seek our help and advice for which a uniformed police response isn’t suitable. On many of those issues we will refer people to organisations better-placed to help, such as local authorities.”

He insisted the county remains “very safe” but added: “Demand for our services is increasing and the money and people we have to deliver them is reducing.

“Keeping Essex safe is exactly why we need to prioritise our response to calls for help on the basis of the level of threat, risk and harm to people.”

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